So what are the top errors with respect to evaluating culture and religion?
Well first off is the mistake of comparing the Ideal with the Real. What I mean is this: If you compare one man's ideals to another man's actual behavior, you're truly comparing apples and oranges.
"Atheism is great, because atheists believe in human rights. Religion is horrible -- remember the Crusades?."
That's not a fair comparison. If you're going to compare religions, you have to compare apples to apples -- compare one man's ideals to another man's ideals, and one man's behavior to another man's behavior.
Compare the atheist's belief in "human rights" to the Christian injunction that "he who is without sin should cast the first stone." They come out roughly equivalent.
Compare the religious persecution performed by Christians in the 20th century to that performed by Atheists. The Atheists come out much worse. 31,689,000 Christians were martyred by atheists in the 20th century , helped along a great deal by atheists Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, who killed Christians by the millions simply for being Christian.
That's not to bash my many awesome atheist friends. It's just to show the problem with comparing ideals of many to practices of the few.
The second mistake one can make in this arena is an error in CAUSATION. Are acts committed by people BECAUSE of a belief, or in spite of it?
In the blog by Mr. Myers, he implies some link between the Islamic religion and the forced marriage and sexual abuse of the 8-year old girl in Yemen. But, in fact, the interpretation of Islam by muslims today is that this is immoral. Even in Yemen, while marrying a girl of that age is legal, having sex with her is not. Therefore, the perpretator in this case violated the law. How then can you blame a religion for an act when contemporary religious authorities condemn the act?
If a person commits an act forbidden by his religion, then the problem is not that they are too religious -- the problem is that they are not religious enough.
Interestingly, the Quran itself has no minimum age for marriage -- Muhammed himself married an 8 year old and consumated the relationship with a 9 year old, when Muhammed himself was 52. This is vile to our sensibilities.
However, again, it is important to determine whether a behavior comes from a religion or from the religion's cultural context. A Sharia expert explains the Islamic argument based on cultural context here. In reality, these cultures force children into sexual contact at exceedingly young ages whether Islamic or not -- it's part of their culture. In fact, prior to Islam, women were typically bought and sold as chattel. Even today, in countries like Zambia, one out of three 8 year olds is having sex, and about 1/7 would deliberately have sex with someone if they knew they had HIV. I ask you, is it better for an 8-year old to be having sex with a 50-year old who is responsible for her welfare, or a 9 nine-year with AIDS with no obligations to the girl at all?
Seems about a tossup to me.
And as the teacher explains, the Quran requires some degree of security and protection for the girl. Thus, while the Quran permits something we in the West would never permit and which arguably shouldn't be permitted by anyone, it is certainly BETTER than the culture without Islam.
The last thing one should do when evaluating religion and culture is to take a look at the log in our own eye. As the teacher points out, many girls in the West become sexually promiscuous around age 12 or below. In the US, one third of all births are to unwed women, one third of girls get pregnant at least once before they turn twenty, and four million teens contract an STD every year. We tolerate this because in our value system, it's their "right." However, our protection of these "rights" results in STDs, teen pregnancy, and the broken families and children that come out of those families. Agreed. Marrying children off at 8 is not a good idea. But neither is a culture permitting its 10-year olds to have sex out of bounds. Maybe we should clean up our own house first.